The Ugandan Gay Rights Fight Comes to Springfield

A local evangelist faces a lawsuit alleging he inspired anti-gay violence in Uganda.

You might not expect a Springfield man to face a lawsuit in federal court from plaintiffs based in Uganda. But that’s just what evangelist Scott Lively will have on his hands when the case alleging he his anti-gay preaching triggered violent retribution against LGBT people in Uganda starts today in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

A Ugandan gay rights group sued Lively in March using the Alien Tort Statute—which allows American courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreigners even for actions committed abroad— alleging that he helped religious and political leader sin Uganda create anti-gay hysteria by warning that gays there would molest children. The Ugandan Parliament is now debating a bill that, when first introduced, made homosexuality punishable by death. This December, The New Yorker described Lively’s supposed influence on the bill:

In March of 2009, Scott Lively, an American evangelical pastor, led a series of talks in Kampala, at which he and two colleagues spoke to thousands of attendees about the abuse of teen-age boys by gay men and the evils of gay marriage. He advised members of the Ugandan parliament that gays should be provided with therapy. Five months later, [Ugandan politician David] Bahati introduced his bill, using language that echoes Lively’s writings. A draft of the bill’s preamble, for instance, says that children are the “most vulnerable to recruitment into the homosexual lifestyle.” Martin Ssempa, a prominent Ugandan pastor who supports the bill, told me that he has met with Lively twice, and he praised his book “Seven Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child.” (Lively told me that Bahati had gone too far: “He cares for his country, but the bill is just too harsh. I don’t support the death penalty, even for pedophiles.”

Lively runs the “Holy Grounds” coffee shop in Springfield. The New York Times covered the suit back in March, when Lively alleged he’d never done more than “speak my opinion” in Uganda. A lawyer for the organization representing the plaintiffs fired back: “It’s based on his conduct. Belief is one thing, but actively trying to harm and deprive other people of their rights is the definition of persecution.

The Ugandan gay rights struggle has long kept our attention here in the U.S., and beginning today, it’ll become even more difficult to ignore when the struggle comes to our state’s courtrooms. (A judge will decide in a hearing Monday whether the case should proceed or be dismissed.) Add to that the fact that  this is the first time the Alien Torts Statute has been used in a gay rights case, according to the website Queerty, and you’ve got a pretty interesting lawsuit happening in our backyard.